Government and politics of Darien, Connecticut

Government and politics of Darien, Connecticut

The government and politics of Darien, Connecticut take place in an overwhelmingly Republican, very affluent small town with a Triple-A bond rating and a tax base made up of wealthy homes, country clubs (some of the largest taxpayers) and some office buildings.

As of August 1, 2006 the town Grand List (list of taxable property) amounted to $6.33 billion.

The Cablevision Channel 79 is the town government-access cable television channel for town residents to see meetings of local government boards and commissions.


In 1951, the town switched from an annual town meeting to a Representative Town Meeting, which was considered more practical because of the growth of the town's population. In 1959, the state Legislature passed a special act allowing the town to consolidate all laws affecting the structure of its government into "A Special Act Consolidating Certain Special Acts Concerning the Town of Darien", now usually referred to as the town Charter."Know Your Town Government: Darien, Connecticut" booklet published by the League of Women Voters of Darien, 20 pages, 2006 edition]

Unique to Connecticut, Darien's town Charter "may be amended by action of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) after a public hearing, a sixty day delay, and an affirmative vote of a majority of the full membership of the RTM," according to the Darien League of Women Voters.

A town Charter Commission (as of 2007) is considering proposed changes to the charter.

Elected bodies and officials

The town is governed primarily by a five-member Board of Selectmen, a nine member Board of Education, a seven-member Board of Finance, and a 100-member, nonpartisan Representative Town Meeting. The town government also includes a six-member Planning and Zoning Commission and a three-member Board of Assessment Appeals."Darien Government Guide: 2006", a brochure published by the League of Women Voters of Darien]

Other elective offices in town include: the town clerk, probate judge, registrar of voters, tax collector and treasurer.

Board of Selectmen

The five-member board heads the executive branch of town government. The five members are elected every two years, and no more than three may be members of any one party (an exception to state law which normally allows four members of a five-member elected board to be affiliated with the same party). The First Selectperson, elected specifically to that office, is salaried and serves as the agent of the board. The board hires an administrative officer and other employees, along with members of various town boards and commissions.

Board of Finance

The Board of Finance approves financial measures, including the town budget and the budget proposed by the Board of Education. The finance board presents the Representative Town Meeting with a total town operating budget and tax rate, together with recommendations for special appropriations, certain transfers, bonds and notes of the town. The seven members (no more than five of which may be members of the same party) are elected to overlapping terms so that not all members are elected in the same year.

Board of Education

"See: Education in Darien, Connecticut"

The Board of Education controls the town's public schools and has nine members, three of whom are elected each year and no more than six of whom may be members of the same political party. State law requires every municipality to establish a board of education with independent authority to create education policy and govern the town school system. Although elected by the town, board members technically serve as state officials. Although the total appropriation for schools must be approved by other town bodies, the Board of Education has discretion as to how appropriated funds are ultimately spent.

Planning and Zoning Commission

The six-member board must have no more than four members from the same political party.

Representative Town Meeting

The Representative Town Meeting, or "RTM" is composed of 100 members elected from election districts. Members are not elected on a party basis and serve without compensation. Any registered voter in town is eligible for election. Terms of office are normally two years, with half of the membership of each district elected every other year. If an RTM member moves within the town, that member may continue to represent the original district the member was elected from until the next election; those who move out of town may not continue their membership in the body. Vacancies are filled by appointment of the remaining members of the district in which the vacancy occurs. Those appointees serve until the next annual municipal election."A Guide to the RTM of Darien", brochure published by the League of Women Voters of Darien, Connecticut, October 2005]

RTM members are expected to attend the six regularly scheduled meetings of the body, along with special meetings called by the moderator. Members are assigned by the RTM Rules Committee to one of eight standing committees:

*Finance and Budget
*Public Safety
*Planning, Zoning and Housing
*Health and Social Services
*Park and Recreation
*Public Works
*Town Government Structure and Administration

In 1951, the town switched from a traditional form of New England town meeting in which all residents and property owners could vote to a Representative Town Meeting made up of 100 members.

Ordinances, expenditure of $50,000 or more or the issuance of bonds are all subject to overrule by a town referendum. A petition with five percent of town electors (registered voters) that complies with state regulations can force a referendum if filed with the Town Clerk in the 10 days following the RTM meeting. The referendum then occurs in a special electors meeting called by the Board of Selectmen as soon as practicable. The decision of the RTM stands as approved unless a majority of those voting is opposed and that majority exceeds 25 percent of the total number of town electors.

Board of Assessment Appeals

A three-member board.

Other elected posts

*Town Clerk
*Tax Collector
*Registrars of Voters

Appointed boards and commissions

Land use boards

*Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) — five members appointed by the Board of Selectmen
*Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) — seven members appointed by the Board of Selectmen
*Architectural Review Board (ARB) — seven members appointed by the Board of Selectmen

Other appointed boards and volunteer posts

*Commission on Aging
*Beautification Commission
*Building Board of Appeals
*Cable TV Advisory Commission
*Advisory Commission on Coastal Waters
*Deer Management Committee
*Board of Ethics (chosen from members
of the Representative Town Meeting)
*Five Mile River Commission (two members from
Darien chosen by the governor of Connecticut)
*Housing Authority
*Information Technology Committee
*Monuments and Ceremonies Committee
*Operations Planning Committee (OPC) — made up of
the four chairmen of major town boards (first selectman,
chairman of the board of finance, chairman of the Board of
Education, chairman of the Planning
and Zoning Commission) the RTM moderator and the
town administrator.
*Parks and Recreation Commission
*Parking Ticket Hearing Officers
*Police Commission
*Police Pension Board
*Selectmen's Emergency Management Committee
*Sewer Commission
*Commissioners of Social Services
*SWRPA (Southwestern Regional Planning Agency) representatives
*Town Historian
*Town Pension Board
*Youth Commission — seven adults appointed by the Board of Selectmen,
along with a full-time youth director and a Youth Advisory Committee
made up of eight to 15 high school-aged teenagers.

Town departments and offices

Town employees hired by the Board of Selectmen

Nine paid officers of the town are hired by the Board of Selectmen, usually for a specific term. They are:

*Administrative Officer — indefinite term
*Building Official — four-year term
*Finance Officer — indefinite term
*Fire Marshall — indefinite term
*Health Director — four-year term
*Park and Recreation Administrator — four-year term
*Public Works Director — indefinite term
*Tax Assessor — three-year term
*Town Counsel — two-year term

Public safety agencies and departments

In 2005, the town police department responded to 20,030 incidents, including 595 motor vehicle accidents, 1,766 motor vehicle infractions, and issued 254 traffic tickets and 1,150 traffic warnings. Police made 104 arrests for driving under the influence and received reports of 152 larcenies, 27 burglaries, three attempted burglaries, 82 incidents of vandalism, 19 assaults and six motor vehicle thefts. Police made 33 larceny arrests, 10 for burglary, 11 for vandalism, 15 for assault. No robberies, rapes, arsons or murders were reported in 2005.Fact|date=March 2007

The town received 1,675 false alarms in 2005, two actual alarms, 304 alarms that were canceled and 17 caused by weather. ["Darien Answer Book", page 44]

The Town of Darien has three fire departments, all of which are staffed entirely by volunteers. These departments respond to all types of calls, including fire, electrical, CO alarms, motor vehicle accidents, downed power lines, cold water rescues, and any problem in the Long Island Sound.Fact|date=March 2007

Noroton Heights Fire Department

Founded 1903, the Noroton Heights Fire Department has about 150 members. "NHFD" is located on Noroton Avenue, and covers the northern part of Darien, including part of Interstate 95. Noroton Heights has a fleet of 5 active apparatus, including 2 Mack Engines, (21 and 23) 1 1988 Mack Quint, (20) which serves as their first due unit on most structural calls, a 1975 Mack Tanker, (22) and a 1989 Mack Rescue. Noroton Heights also has a Utility Truck, Truck 24, which is a 1991 Chevy Silverado, and a Chief's Car, Unit 200.Fact|date=March 2007

Noroton Fire Department

Founded in 1896, NFD has 140 members, about 35 whom are active. NFD is located on Boston Post Road, and covers the smallest portion of Darien out of the 3 departments. Noroton covers the southern part of the Town of Darien, covering all the way down to the Stamford line. NFD currently has an active fleet of 5 apparatus: Engine 32, a 2002 Marion Pumper, which is first due on all structural calls and motor vehicle accidents. Engine 31, a 1972 open cab Maxim pumper, which is Noroton's second due engine. Ladder 30, a 1994 Sutphen Aerial, nicknamed "The Big Stick," for its 104' aerial. Rescue 33, a 1988 International Marion Medium Duty Rescue. NFD also operates the only firefighting and rescue capable marine unit in the town of Darien. Marine Unit 34 allows Noroton to respond year-round to the various types of emergencies that occur on Long Island Sound, and responds frequently to mutual aid calls from surrounding towns, and is in service year round. Noroton also has a Utility Truck, Truck 35, a 2001 Ford F-350.Fact|date=March 2007

In the late 1950s, the fire department was used for a "Lucky Strike" cigarettes advertising campaign. In a magazine ad, two firefighters are shown, cigarettes in their mouths, pausing as they wash fire engines in front of the building. A message in small type at the top of the advertisement asks smokers to "take care with cigarettes". [1959 magazine advertisement for Lucky Strike cigarettes]

Darien Fire Department

Founded in 1895, covers the eastern side of town, encompassing about 45 percent of the land area. ["Darien Answerbook '06", page 42] The Noroton Heights and Darien Fire Departments cover a portion of Interstate 95 from exits 9 southbound to exit 13/14 northbound, one of the most disaster-prone stretches of highway in the country. [] Cablevision editorial] Darien has a fleet of 5 active apparatus in their "barn." Darien recently purchased twin 2006 Pierce Enforcer Pumpers to replace their Mack engines. (Engine 41 and 42) Darien also owns a 1971 Mack Tower Ladder with 75' aerialscope, slated for replacement in 2009, a 2004 Saulsbury Rescue, and a 1996 Mack Tanker. Darien also owns a Utility Truck 46, a 2002 Chevy Silverado, and a Chief's car. Also stored in Darien's firehouse is a 1928 Ahrens Fox Pumper, which is no longer in service, although still very active in parades.Fact|date=March 2007

Fire Marshal's Office

Established in 1980 as a full-time office, the agency works with the three volunteer fire departments in town and conducts annual inspections of all buildings (except one- and two-family houses), investigates fires, plans review and contstuction inspections of all buildings (except one- and two-family houses), conducts fire-prevention education programs, issues permits for blasting and tank removals, instpects and certifies hazardous material transport vehicles housed in town, inspects and certifies all day-care centers, nursery schools, convalescent centers and establishments with liquor permits, among other duties. "Preparing tomorrow's Leaders", Town of Darien Annual Report 2005-2006, published by the Town of Darien (no year of publication given, but either 2006 or 2007)]

Other town departments

* Assessor's Office — sets values on all real and personal property in order to establish the town "Grand List" (a list of taxable property). The town has more than 7,100 real estate parcels and more than 18,000 taxable motor vehicles as well as more than 1,000 payers of "business personal property" taxes (taxes on business assets).

* Building Department — composed of the building official, an assistant building official, an office administrator, a secretary and a part-time building official.

* Finance Department

* Health Department — conducts inspections of food-service establishments. In the 2005-2006 fiscal year there were 106 establishments with licenses in addition to 48 temporary food services which received licenses. The department also inspects and issues permits for the installation and repair of all subsurface sewage disposal systems, reviews house plans to determine compliance with the state septic code, inspects local cosmetology shops and the town's nine public swimming pools, monitors water quality near beaches, issues shellfishing permits, conducts education programs, blood-pressure screenings, influenza clinics, and makes radon test kits available to residents.

*Human Resources Department

* Information Technology Department

* Darien Library — the town government funds library operating expenses, including sallaries, but the Library board of trustees oversees fundraising to buy books and other marterial.

* Parks and Recreation Department — manages and maintains 12 town-owned parks with a total of convert|209|acre|km2.

* Planning and Zoning Department — the staff of six employees provides support to the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Environmental Protection Commission and the Architectural Review Board. The department helps other departments with particular projects, such as providing maps for the Assessor's Office and salt-route mapping for the Public Works Department. An enforcement officer and code compliance officer investigate complaints of land-use regulations such as sign violations, illegal commercial activity within residential zones and violations of specific requirements set out in commission approvals.

* Public Works Department — the DPW, with 30 full-time employees, constructs and maintains town roads, buildings, bridges, storm and sanitary sewers, the Refuse Disposal Area (RDA, or "town dump"), two railroad stations, and municipal parking lots. The department has six major areas of responsibility:
** Public Works Management & Engineering — manages all DPW functions, prepares contracts, hires consultants and contractors, prepares engineering documents, performs engineering reviews, carries out special projects
** Highway Maintenance & maintains convert|81|mi|km of public streets and 30 bridges in town, picks up Christmas trees, sweeps streets, picks up items residents leave by the street during the town's spring cleanup program, conducts the town's Household Hazardous Waste Day on the first Saturday in June, resurfaces about three miles (5 km) of roadway each summer, picks up leaves left near the roadside by residents starting in late October, maintains and upgrades street signs, maintains the tide gates at Gorham's Pond, removes and cares for trees on town property.
** Solid Waste Disposal and Recycling — this accounts for about 40 percent of the department budget. A private company working under contract operates the transfer station at the Refuse Disposal Area. The department operates other parts of the RDA, including the composting site, the residential recycling drop-off center and the bulk recycling transfer area. Refuse is trucked to the waste-to-energy incinerator in Bridgeport. Recycled material is hauled to the Intermediate Processing Center in Stratford for more sorting, packaging and sale.
** Public Building Management — cares for various town-owned buildings.
** Parking Facilities and Railroad & Maintenance — maintains and polices about 1,700 parking spaces in 13 lots in the downtown area and at the two railroad stations. A parking enforcement agent covers the downtown areas on foot and issues tickets.
** Sewer Collection System Maintenance
* Registrars of Voters

* Social Services — helps the poor, the elderly and others with special needs.

* Tax Collector's Office

* Youth Director and Youth Commission


As of December 1, 2005, the town had 12,099 registered voters, with 6,445 Republicans (53.1 percent), 1,940 Democrats (16 percent) and 3,703 unaffiliated voters (30.6 percent). ["Revitalization: Town of Darien Annual Report, 2004-2005", page24]

Darien is primarily a Republican town, voting for George Bush in the last 2 elections, but now has a Democrat in office as First Selectwoman. In 2003, Evonne Klein replaced Robert Harrel as first selectman, becoming the first Democrat to win the post in 14 years. Klein was re-elected in 2005.

The low percentage of registered Democrats does not mean that party has little representation in town government, even beyond Klein's office of first selectman. The state's Minority Representation Law mandates that local elected boards have a maximum number of members from one party.

For a board with a total membership of three, no more than two may be from the same party. For boards with five members, no more than three; for boards of seven members, no more than five; for boards of nine members, no more than six.


External links

* [ Town government Web site]
* [ League of Women Voters of Darien]

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